Friday, December 05, 2008

December 6, 2008 - Washington, D.C., USA

After a wonderful Thanksgiving and birthday with my folks and sister, Sten and I hit the road on Wednesday. Washington D.C. would be our first stop on a loop that will take us up the east coast to Rhode Island for Christmas and then back to Ohio in time to fly back to Singapore on New Year's Eve. We stayed with our friends Jar and Cara in their new home in an old D.C. row house. Sten and I love old houses and we were blown away by the original details in their home.

Jar and Cara gave us the low down on what was new in town, so we spent our days visiting museums that had recently reopened and newly opened exhibits. Our timing was eerily perfect on both days of touring. We kept wandering into museums just as their complimentary highlights tours were beginning. At the recently reopened American History Museum, we loved hearing the history of the first Washington Monument, a gaudy thing with George's head slapped on Zeus's body. At the Natural History Museum, we were fascinated by the docent's description of the taxidermy methods used in the state of the art Mammals exhibit, and by a tiny vial of diamond dust that we would have overlooked entirely, but which, at 4.6 billion years old, is the oldest known material on the planet earth.

We were less impressed by the new Capital Visitor Center, which cost $621 million to build, which was more than $350 million over original projections, and is basically just a large air-conditioned waiting room. Before the CVC opened, tourists would wait outside in the sticky humidity of summer, or the bitter cold of winter, to enter the rotunda and see the original Senate chamber. Now, we can check our coats, wait indoors, and see an inspirational film before taking the tour. The space is very nice, but seemed like an odd thing to spend that much money on.

The American economy is currently sucking wind. As a result, there are amazing retail bargains to be found. These past two weeks we've had a great time shopping, restocking on t-shirts and skirts to wear in the tropics at bargain basement prices. While we've been taking advantage of the low prices and recession specials, the US auto manufacturers have been trying to convince Congress to bail them out. After being ridiculed by Congress for flying down to D.C. from Detroit on three separate corporate jets to beg the American taxpayer for money, this time around they drove several prototype green vehicles down to D.C. from Detroit. We kept seeing them parked around town.

Our first day in town we had to go to Ben's Chili Bowl for our lunch break. After munching down a half-smoke covered with chili, while surrounded by Secret Service Agents, we were refreshed and ready to do some more museums. Our second day we revisited the American Indian Museum for lunch and had a really good meal of burritos and tacos from the Meso-American counter.

Each night, after they got home from work, we would catch-up with Jar and Cara over dinner. Our first night in town they took us out for Ethiopian. Neither Sten nor I have ever had it before, and after reading Camilla Gibb's Sweetness in The Belly, I was really excited to try injera, a sour bread, and inky dark Ethiopian coffee.

On our last morning in town, we caught up with our friends Graham and Eryn, with whom we stayed during our visit to D.C. last year. It was fun to see the progress they've made on their home in the last year and to hear about their new jobs.

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